Packet-ship Sully.—Dinner-table conversation.—Dr. Charles T. Jackson.— First conception of telegraph.—Sketch-book.—Idea of 1832 basic principle of telegraph of to-day.—Thoughts on priority.—Testimony of passengers and Captain Pell.—Difference between “discovery” and “invention.”—Professor E.N. Horsford’s paper.—Arrival in New York.— Testimony of his brothers.—First steps toward perfection of the invention.—Letters to Fenimore Cooper.
The history of every great invention is a record of struggle, sometimes Heart-breaking, on the part of the inventor to secure and maintain his rights. No sooner has the new step in progress proved itself to be an upward one than claimants arise on every side; some honestly believing themselves to have solved the problem first; others striving by dishonest means to appropriate to themselves the honor and the rewards, and these sometimes succeeding; and still others, indifferent to fame, thinking only of their own pecuniary gain and dishonorable in their methods. The electric telegraph was no exception to this rule; on the contrary, its history perhaps leads all the rest as a chronicle of “envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness.” On the other hand, it brings out in strong relief the opposing virtues of steadfastness, perseverance, integrity, and loyalty.
Many were the wordy battles waged in the scientific world over the questions of priority, exclusive discovery or invention, indebtedness to others, and conscious or unconscious plagiarism. Some of these questions are, in many minds, not yet settled. Acrimonious were the legal struggles fought over infringements and rights of way, and, in the first years of the building of the lines to all parts of this country, real warfare was waged by the workers of competing companies.
It is not my purpose to treat exhaustively of any of these battles, scientific, legal, or physical. All this has already been written down by abler pens than mine, and has now become history. My aim in following the career of Morse the Inventor is to shed a light (to some a new light) on his personality, self-revealed by his correspondence, tried first by hardships, poverty, and deep discouragement, and then by success, calumny, and fame. Like other men who have achieved greatness, he was made the target for all manner of abuse, accused of misappropriating the ideas of others, of lying, deceit, and treachery, and of unbounded conceit and vaingloriousness. But a careful study of his notes and correspondence, and the testimony of others, proves him to have been a pure-hearted Christian gentleman, earnestly desirous of giving to every one his just due, but jealous of his own good name and fame, and fighting valiantly, when needs must be, to maintain his rights; guilty sometimes of mistakes and errors of judgment; occasionally quick-tempered and testy under the stress of discouragement and the pressure of poverty, but frank to acknowledge his error and to make amends when convinced of his fault; and the calm verdict of posterity has awarded him the crown of greatness.